Social Media Research

What Fresh Statistics Tell Us About Twitter’s Decline

A recent article on CNNMoney cites Twitter’s lack of user growth as a reason for a recent decline in the company’s stock price.

Another widely-read article in The Atlantic, A Eulogy for Twitter, speculated that the service was entering its “twilight.”

I decided to take a look at some recent data on the relative growth from 2013 to 2014 of the leading social networking sites and services, to see if the rumors of Twitter’s demise were exaggerated, or if the service did indeed have something to worry about.

The results were… mixed, as the graph below indicates:

Podcast Consumption Page 47 1024x574 What Fresh Statistics Tell Us About Twitters Decline

This data is based upon a representative sample of Americans 12+, is projectable to the U.S. population (methodology here), and it tells us a few things.

First of all, Twitter’s growth has clearly slowed–and so has that of Facebook. The percentage of Americans who use Twitter rose from 15% to 16% last year, while Facebook’s growth appears to have stalled for the time being, remaining at 2013’s 58% figure.

So on the one hand, Twitter did continue to add users, but one would hardly call that hockey stick growth. On the other hand, it has “slowed” to 16% of all Americans. For a single brand. If Twitter were a laundry detergent or a pet food, we’d be having a very different conversation.

But it’s not pet food, and there are indeed some mixed signals in this graph. First of all, Twitter was the third most widely-used platform in 2013, behind Facebook (the aforementioned 58%) and LinkedIn (at 17% of Americans 12+.) This year, though they have grown, they have fallen to fifth in rank (hello, Instagram and Google+). In fact, without seeing the relative growth in other platforms, I might be inclined to be less concerned about Twitter’s modest increase in users. The space, however, is not slowing down–and there are some interesting similarities shared by the biggest gainers.

Look at the services that showed marked year-over-year growth: Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Vine’s debut at 9%. The social networking space is showing signs of being an actual, you know, market, with a wider variety of players all developing significant user bases.

These services have a couple of things in common, and these may be one key to Twitter’s fortunes.

First of all, all of these newer, growing services are about sharing images (and let’s even throw Google+ in there, with its growing community of photographers and powerful image tools.) Clearly, as you’ve read here for some time on Convince and Convert, Visual Marketing is a thing.

Remember that received wisdom that 80% of us were consumers, 19% curators, and 1% creators? Intagram, Snapchat, and Vine have thrown those ratios out the window, as long as we are comfortable with an evolution in what “creating content” means.

We are not all going to be bloggers. And there is likely a finite cap on the percentage of Americans who want to broadcast their thoughts to people they don’t know (i.e., Tweet.) But sharing images is a basic human behavior, passed down from when your family pulled out the slide projector, or VCR, or Flip recorder (depending on your particular vintage.)

New visual networks aren’t training us in new behaviors; rather, they are facilitating behaviors we are already trained in. (tweet this)

There is a second thing these services have in common, however, and that’s this: they are designed around sharing experiences. While Twitter’s origins were centered around “what is happening,” these newer, mobile networks are based around “what are you doing?” And if I want to share what I am doing or experiencing, I am increasingly more likely to do that with 2-3 thumb presses than with 141 thumb presses.

Note: I am not sounding Twitter’s death knell–that would be absurd. I am merely pointing out that these other services have found ways to tap into the behaviors and motivations of those of us who are not inclined to broadcast tweets, but are inclined to share experiences with other humans.

Finding ways to tap into those behaviors might be a key to continued growth for Twitter. And you know, it might not be a bad idea for your brand, either.

Podcast Consumption Page 47 What Fresh Statistics Tell Us About Twitters Decline
Article Name
What Fresh Statistics Tell Us About Twitter's Decline
Is Twitter's stagnating growth really an issue for the network that is already being used by 16% of the population? It's possible that visual marketing may take the center stage, though Twitter likely isn't going anywhere.
  • Martha

    what date was this blog posted?

    • jaybaer

      May 6, 2014

  • Lisa Niver Rajna

    This is fascinating to me.
    “Remember that received wisdom that 80% of us were consumers, 19% curators, and 1% creators? Intagram, Snapchat, and Vine have thrown those ratios out the window, as long as we are comfortable with an evolution in what “creating content” means.”

    If we evolve what “creating content” means to sharing a photo on instagram, what are the new %? Is there a metric for “onehitwonders” vs. participants and influencers. I feel like we are in the Wild Wild West!

    We Said Go Travel

  • David Shaw

    I wonder how much of this is due to the instant participation and gratification that the new platforms offer?

  • Karen Christian

    Nice article Tom. I would like to add my own observations to the mix which I think are important from a business perspective.

    Apart from MySpace, the networks that have slowed or even stagnated in growth have been around the longest which suggests they are experiencing the ‘plateau’ stage of their business cycle. The newer networks are still in the rapid growth stage and like all businesses will also reach a plateau before heading into a ‘decline’ phase.

    If I were an investor, my questions would be how long these plateau’s will last for each company and whether they will do something to initiate future growth spurts before they begin to slide into their decline phase. The problem here is that social media companies are still in their infancy and we don’t really have any information to consult from past experiences. As Lisa stated, it really is the ‘Wild Wild West’ when it comes to the combination of social media and business.

    My concern as an investor would be if the social media companies continue on their current business cycle with the spectacularly rapid growth, then their plateau and following decline could be just as fast.

  • John

    Tom, thank you for sharing these insights… and by the way, I totally agree that visual communication is key to having a successful social media content strategy. Whether it’s for Twitter, Vine, Instagram or whatever comes next… strong and compelling visuals will continue to tell the brand story in a much easier way for our consumers to digest and feel compelled to share with their networks.

  • vanhoosear

    Is Twitter entering its “twilight years?” I think not. Yes, it must adapt or die. But it IS adapting. It owns Vine. And it’s retooling to become more visual — indeed more like Facebook. It remains the “social media franca” of the Internet — the least common denominator for quick, fast online sharing with the largest group possible.

    But that’s not necessarily a very compelling place to be, even for a marketer. People want to be able to tell there stories in as many different ways as possible. Twitter’s focus on 140 characters is certainly limiting, and the massive breadth has created an apparent lack of depth. But if you dive into the platform, into cards, into Vine (launched by Twitter in 2013), you see the capacity for much more.

    I don’t expect Twitter, if you’ll forgive me, to die on the Vine. I expect more to come from the platform cum portal.

  • Mary

    Great insight about sharing images! I’m not a big photo person – but you are right – most people are and it is easier to communicate with images. However, I do think there is a place for different types of social media. Facebook has turned into a more social place. Twitter is really about sharing for work. LinkedIn is about fostering work relationships. And so on.

    I don’t think Twitter is on the decline. I think people aren’t fully seeing the value of what Twitter can really offer. It’s not about sharing what you are doing right now. It’s a great way to quickly communicate with other people – or companies. You can start the ball rolling anonymously to learn more about a product, share ideas, and stay in touch without a lot of effort. I know of people starting business deals of Twitter. I think people need to see a broader application of what it could do before adopting.

  • t2S

    It is a general human trait to share, but is sharing exactly the same as showing? There is certainly a mass web culture of showing.